April 06, 2000 10:39am
Bare Kathleen Turner Gets Bravos
by: Matt Wolf
(LONDON) -- Here's to you, Kathleen Turner, some London theater critics cheered Thursday, as a stage version of ``The Graduate'' created a fuss with its star's fleetingly naked flesh.
British writer-director Terry Johnson's adaptation of the 1967 film - and of the novel by Charles Webb - casts Turner as Mrs. Robinson, the sexually avid alcoholic played on screen by Anne Bancroft.
The biggest headlines before Wednesday night's opening had to do with Turner baring all. After seeing her performance, critics noted she can act, too.
``Turner made an absolutely sensational London stage debut,'' Nicholas de Jongh wrote in The Evening Standard, giving the show two out of three stars.
The ``voluptuous'' star is the play's ``prime source of pleasure,'' he enthused. ``Her performance (has) a rare comic edge and, later, a scathingly malicious impact.''
Matthew Rhys, a 25-year-old Welshman, makes a pallid inheritor to Dustin Hoffman's comically morose Benjamin. Kelly Reilly reinvents Katharine Ross's doe-eyed Elaine - Mrs. Robinson's daughter - as a squeaky-voiced simpleton.
So, not surprisingly, it was Turner's night.
``Turner steals the show and not just in the flesh,'' read the headline over Charles Spencer's admiring notice in The Daily Telegraph. ``At her best,'' he wrote of the star, ``Mrs. Robinson seems as sassy as Lauren Bacall and as funny as Mae West.''
Though Mike Nichols' seminal film limits nudity to a few split-second flashes of skin, the stage version is only briefly under way before a dimly lit Turner emerges fully - and frontally - nude.
During previews, the Standard's full-page story on Turner's nude appearance precipitated the highest single-day's sale for a play in the history of Shaftesbury Avenue, London's Broadway - just under $160,000.
In an interview with The Associated Press before opening night, she defended her decision to appear naked.
``It just seemed the right thing to do,'' said Turner, 45, who hasn't exactly been shy during a film career that steamed its way through ``Body Heat'' and ``Crimes of Passion.''
Turner noted that Terry Johnson said he had written the scene to be played nude, but told her, ``if you don't feel you can do that, we'll explore it in the rehearsal process and decide what's best.''
She decided to go for it.
``Truly, it's part of the fabric of the play,'' said Turner, who appeared topless at a regional British theater three years ago when she played Tallulah Bankhead. ``I'm convinced it's not a stunt.''
Some critics, however, pondered the sense of making a play out of such a familiar and well-liked film.
``It seems an extravagantly pointless affair,'' wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian, though he did call Turner ``Junoesque.''
``The whole exercise still strikes one as supremely pointless,'' echoed The Independent's Paul Taylor, adding that the brouhaha over nudity was ``wildly out of proportion to the dimly lit and anticlimactic 20 seconds of exposure the play affords.'' (Take your pick: In The Standard, the same scene was said to last ``a full 40 seconds.'')
Whatever the reviews, sex - or the promise of it, anyway - clearly sells.
Co-producer Sacha Brooks said Thursday that the run had been extended six weeks through July 29. Broadway has also been mentioned, though not until well into 2001.
Turner, for her part, was reveling in the attention.
``My career hasn't always been as public - or notorious - in the past few years,'' she said. ``It's kind of fun to have all the fuss again.''